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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Embarrassing episode another dent in reputation of Irish racing's integrity

The IHRB's anti-doping procedures are again in the spotlight following the revelation of a false positive test and its split with BHP Laboratories
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It is hard to believe the extent to which Irish racing's integrity in terms of anti-doping matters continues to be undermined.

This is another embarrassing chapter in a lamentable tale that stretches back to 2012, when the Department of Agriculture found trainers Philip Fenton and Pat Hughes in possession of performance-enhancing anabolic steroids.

They were both duly convicted in court, while Hughes's brother John, a former department vet, pleaded guilty to a similar charge after being found in possession of "commercial" quantities of anabolic steroids.

The Turf Club, as it was then, found out about the charges around the same time as the rest of the world. While the regulator has since established a working relationship with the department, the impression persists that it is always a step behind rather than a step ahead. That's an unfortunate impression.

It didn't cover itself in glory in its handling of a mailing list of 20 trainers that emerged in the John Hughes investigation, and the anti-doping task force that was formed in 2014 to address shortcomings in the Irish Horse Racing Board's testing procedures as a matter of priority has not delivered on its ambitious and well-constructed report, which, somewhat tellingly, was published six months later than forecast. Always behind.

The Racing Post revealed in the autumn of 2016 that the regulator was unable to test for excessive levels of cobalt and TC02 – better known as milkshaking – and we have also observed how the lack of any positive test for steroids was a damning indictment, given the quantities that were unearthed by the department.

It is deeply ironic, then, that a false positive test for an anabolic steroid would be the rock on which its long-standing association with BHP would finally perish.

Neither party comes out of this with its reputation enhanced.

The Racing Post understands that, when the last procurement process was initiated, the two companies that pitched, BHP and a British-based lab, were found not to meet the minimum requirements.

The latter then removed itself from the process, after which an arrangement was formed for BHP to continue the provision of testing services between 2014 and 2017.

In March 2015, Terence Wan's still unpublished report is understood to have crystalised the extent of investment required in equipment and methodology to get BHP up to the appropriate level in accordance with best international practice.

The IHRB has since been sending some samples to International Federation of Horseracing Authorities-recognised foreign labs, but surely more definitive action should have been taken when BHP was initially found not to meet the minimum standard.

It eventually agreed terms with BHP to reimburse the company for certain pieces of lab equipment with a view to upgrading its testing capabilities. That agreement was the genesis of BHP's claim, but it is believed that only one of three proposed instruments had been acquired in the meantime.

As such, BHP must accept some responsibility for not getting up to the standard required in expedient fashion, and the return of false positives speaks for itself.

That a trainer's reputation and career could be at stake as a result of flawed reading is unconscionable.

In the circumstances, it is understandable that the regulator would lose confidence and patience after such a potentially damaging occurrence, but its handling of the whole saga has left a lot to be desired.

At the end of the day, the episode has cost Irish racing – and by extension the Irish taxpayer – around €500,000, and probably considerably more in real terms.

Such shoddy management and implementation of what should be a fundamental aspect of Irish racing's regulatory policy is hardly consistent with assertions that this is a sport or industry in which we are world leaders. Sadly, that line rings a little more hollow every time a hole is punched in the hull of the good ship integrity.

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The episode has cost Irish racing - and by extension the Irish taxpayer - around €500,000, and probably considerably more in real terms
E.W. Terms
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